Passport to Rueda Mixed Case

Rueda – The next big thing in Canada!

By Steve Thurlow

“What’s Rueda?” I hear you asking. Rueda is the top selling white wine in Spain. It has 41% market share there and, everywhere you go, it is what people are sipping and drinking in restaurants and tapas bars. Rueda also dominates the shelves in wine shops and supermarkets in Spain and has done so for a decade or more. However, it’s quite likely that this is the first time you have heard about this phenomenal white wine, that is unless you have been to Spain in the last ten years.

This zippy fresh rich white wine is made in the Rueda region mostly from the indigenous grape verdejo, which I guess is also a new grape variety to most of you. Rueda is in central Spain about 200km NW of Madrid.

So why have you not heard of Rueda or verdejo before now? Probably because it has yet to happen here. There are only two widely available at the LCBO. Compare that to the over 200 pinot grigios listed on the monopoly’s website. These two Rueda whites are excellent and are great value, but more later on that.

Rueda wine is made from an unknown grape in an unknown region in a country whose white wines are in and out of the Canadian market and primarily sold through wine agents. There are two on the LCBO general list and a few come in and out of VINTAGES every year, but most people in Ontario only think to buy wine from the LCBO, not agents. That must explain why it is not better known. This is, however, not the case in many parts of Europe, outside of Spain.

Personally, I discovered this enticing white years ago during my travels in Spain. More recently, in 2017 on a trip to the UK, I was pleased to find that it was becoming popular there. Restaurants in London in particular, had adopted the wine and sales, I am told, grew in that year from 700,000 bottles to over a million. More recently, it has become well known in Germany, Holland and Switzerland.

In Canada we import only around 223,000 bottles a year and most of those are the two at the LCBO that I mentioned above. So, what’s so great about these wines?

Rueda white wines are fresh and lively with typical aromas and flavours of green apple, lime, peach and apricot, and they are rarely matured with oak. They are mostly solid, rich, and creamy with loads of mouth-watering soft acidity. So, you could say that they are zippier than pinot grigio, often with more flavour, and don’t often have the intense green herbal tones found in sauvignon blanc nor its tart acidity.

Wine has been made in Rueda for 1000 years and it was extremely popular in the 11th century. The white wine style in vogue at that time was an oxidized oloroso style of solera wine and the area was good at making these types of wine. However, fashions changed and Jerez in the south of Spain was making great sherry if you wanted that style of wine. So, the region fell into decline, and it was not until the 1970s that there was a renewal.

Marques de Riscal, a major producer of red Rioja, wanted to have a white wine to sit alongside its famous reds on wine shelves. In 1972 they started to produce a new style of white in Rueda using modern technology. It seems verdejo and Rueda had been waiting for this for a long time.

Rueda sits in the watershed of the Duero River. This major Iberian river flows into Portugal where it is known as the Douro, famous for its fortified Port wines. Rueda sits on a high limestone plateau, 600 to 800 metres above sea level. Its hostile climate of cold winters and very hot summers, combined with low rainfall and poor soils mean that it is ideal for growing grapes but little else.

Summer days are typically hot, 28 to 30°C is common, but the temperature drops overnight sometimes by as much as 20°C. Very cool nights and hot days with lots of sunshine and low rainfall makes an ideal climate for viticulture. The massive diurnal temperature shift is essential for creating rich flavourful aromatic wines with lively acidity. However, modern technology is necessary in this hot climate for their creation. You will find some of the most space age wineries in the world in this area.

Harvest is mostly done during the night, starting well before sunrise with artificial light needed to make picking possible. Once picked, the grapes are dispatched without delay with their freshness preserved en route to the winery using inert gasses. Once at the winery, the grapes are cooled to 15 to 18°C to help keep them fresh. Throughout the wine making process inert gasses blanket the grapes, juice, and wine at all stages to avoid oxidation, and temperatures are kept as low as possible. Using these techniques, a delicate crisp juicy rich wine can be made from verdejo. This has led to its rise from obscurity.

The vineyards with deep, dry soil produce lively wines with mineral flavours and higher aromatic intensity, while the vineyards with more clay-based soils produce a richer verdejo with more texture. The verdejo grape combines herbal flavours, especially wild fennel which is abundant in the region, with intense fruit and acidity.

Given the lack of availability of Rueda whites, we at WineAlign decided it was time for our readers to discover more about these lovely wines. As I said before, there are two readily available in most LCBO stores.

Marques De Riscal Rueda 2019 is a lovely, crisp, fresh, fruity white, that is a modern interpretation of verdejo with a nice lemony nose and palate. Expect aromas of lemongrass and melon fruit with a mineral tone. The palate is juicy and velvety smooth with fresh citrus acidity and lots of mineral freshness. It is very mouth-watering with a very good length. Serve chilled and enjoy with seafood. $13.95.

Honoro Vera Rueda 2018 is a good value, vegan friendly Rueda, which has a quite soft, pleasant, well integrated nose of pineapple, some hay, and subtle fresh herbs. It is medium bodied, smooth, and almost creamy with moderate acidity and alcohol at 13.5% bolstering the balance. The length is very good. Nice sense of ripeness and richness yet still restrained. $10.55

There are also three that are currently still available in VINTAGES, but they are going fast.

Hermanos Lurton Rueda Cuesta De Oro Blanc 2018  $22.95 (VINTAGES August 8 release)

Cuatro Rayas Vendemio Nocturna Verdejo 2018  $13.95 (VINTAGES May 16 release)

Garciarévalo Finca Tres Olmos Lias Verdejo 2018  $13.95 (VINTAGES July 25 release)

We encourage you to try these but we think you should also have the opportunity to experience a few of the top wines from the region.

So, in July we sat down as a team, socially distanced of course, and tasted a bunch of Rueda whites. Among these we found six that we all thought were excellent. 48 cases of these wines sold out quickly in August. As a consequence we reconvened in early September to taste the latest vintages of these wines and we have now updated the offer.

You too can now experience these by ordering a case of 12 to be delivered to your front door in a few weeks’ time. There will be 2 bottles of each wine in the case. They are all made from verdejo except one that is made from sauvignon blanc. Around 80% of Rueda whites are made from verdejo but a few are made from other varieties of which sauvignon blanc is the most common.

Additionally, one of the verdejo wines has been matured in oak barrels, which has added complexity and structure, with little evidence of the oak.

Below are the wines that will be in the Passport to Rueda case. Order a case now and remember, that once you have tried the wines, if one or more pleases you especially, you can easily order more since they will all be available for purchase by the case from wine agents in Ontario. Just click on the link to the wine and then click on the Buy a Case Now button.

Passport Rueda : Six of the best

El Bufon 2018 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($19.95)

John Szabo – Classically clean and zesty, well-balanced Rueda, with a fine mix of citrus and herbs, and lovely, zesty-succulent acids. There’s real life and energy in this wine, a sheer joy to sip. Good length, and sharp value, too.

Sara d’Amato – A little bit more texture than your average, easy-drinking verdejo. Offering notes of lemon oil and lime, scintillating minerality and acid. Bright, charming and crunchy. So refreshing with a memorable finish of fresh squeezed lime.

Nekora 2019 By Diez Siglos, Rueda, Spain ($19.92)

Michael Godel Nekora is 100 per cent verdejo with plenty of energy, intensity and proper Rueda personality. Tons of citrus, a sparkle of wide-eyed wonder and nice clean herbal sweetness.

John Szabo – Clean, very ripe, tropical fruit-scented in the varietal idiom like a Delmonte fruit cup, with a similarly intense, concentrated and ripe palate with high flavour intensity, and very good length. A solid regional example to be sure.

Sapientia 2018 Verdejo Ecologico, Rueda, Spain ($21.95)

Steve Thurlow – This is an elegant, fruity, dry Rueda made from verdejo. Complex and well structured with a harmonious palate with lovely, soft, balancing acidity. The nose shows white peach and cantaloupe melon fruit with tangerine citrus plus floral and ginger spice notes. The creamy midweight palate is well balanced with soft mouthwatering acidity and rich fruit flavours. Classy and very drinkable with good focus and excellent length. Try with rich seafood.

Sara d’Amato – Sapidity, juiciness weight, oil, yoghurt. More complex, likely with a hint of oak, organically produced. Balanced. Intriguing. Bigger.

Ayre 2019 Verdejo Edicion Primavera, Rueda, Spain ($19.92)

David Lawrason – Here’s a nicely fresh, smooth, yet lively Rueda with the classic, almost tropical ground cherry (Cape gooseberry) fruit of the verdejo grape, along with grapefruit and a herbal note. It is quite smooth, yet dry and lively, with fine flavour focus and excellent length. Textbook and delicious.

Steve Thurlow – This is a fine, pure, fairly complex Rueda made from verdejo. The nose is quite expressive with white peach and melon fruit toned by ginger spice, lemon marmalade and sweet basil. The midweight palate is fruity and clean with lovely, soft, mouthwatering acidity. Excellent length with good focus and lingering fruit flavours.

Jose Pariente 2018 Verdejo Fermentado En Barrica, Rueda, Spain ($34.95)

Steve Thurlow – This is an elegant sophisticated white. It is rare for Rueda to be fermented and matured in oak barrels, but this has been expertly done with the oak subtlety adding to aromas, flavours and structure. The nose shows white peach with lime plus well integrated mild oak spice and some nutty complexity. The palate is firm and pure with a fine structure from the oak and acidity. It is dry with lovely flavours and excellent length and good focus. Try with juicy roast or BBQ chicken or veal escallop in a creamy sauce.

Sara d’Amato – Offering both freshness and rich appeal, this mid-weight, lightly oaked verdejo from well respected José Pariente is a sophisticated find. Delivering very good complexity and ample fruit. Notes of green apple, lime, peach along with toast and biscuit on the finish of great length. Recommended.

Montesol 2019 Rueda Sauvignon, Rueda, Spain ($29.52)

Sara d’Amato – A racy, mineral rich sauvignon blanc from Rueda, the home of verdejo and aromatic whites. Distinctly floral, lightly grassy with fresh lemon and lime delivering a burst of freshness on the palate. The flavours are pure, authentic and the wine offers surprising length.